Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead Characters

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade July 2001

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Elizabethan gentlemen only in appearance. Apart from one joke about the "˜fashionable theory' of earth going round the sun no attempt at all is make to link their mental processes to the Renaissance world of corrupt grandeur in which they have roles to play. While they do not make references to films or other modern inventions they psychologically think and feel like memb3ers of a modern audience. Both the humour and the darkness of Stoppard's play comes substantially from this blending of ancient and modern.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also more defined as individuals than Shakespeare's interchangeable pair. Theatrically they need to be as they have to carry almost all of the action of the play, and although the main drama is about their common situation, there had to be some tension between them if only at the level of a comic double act. Stoppard uses this familiar comedy double act to stage and to typically present an image of irritated but long term friendship.

One si sharp-witted, or at least imagines he is; the other more simple or silly, though sometimes his may be the final victory- the essential basic for comedy (or drama)( is that they must differ. Stoppard's theatrical instinct has transformed Shakespeare's bland, sycophantic courtiers, not quite into straight-men and idiot, but into a cerebral Guildenstern (thinking more abstractedly, trying to reason beyond his direct experience) and a more down-to-earth Rosencrantz. After Guildenstern has spent 2 pages playing at abstract philosophy, Rosencrantz is more interested in his toenails. Rosencrantz is not a fool but is more easily fooled (eg by the player pg.49/50) and he prefers to get back to basics, even if they include a basic fear of death (pg.51-52). He is the kinder of the two.

Stoppard has spoken of them as "˜carrying out a dialogue which I carry out with myself. One of them is fairly intellectual, fairly incisive; the other is thicker, nicer in a curious way, more sympathetic.' In their reactions to the letter ordering the death of Hamlet there is a sense of cleverness not natural innocence- Guildenstern makes a sweetly reasonably speech excusing them from doing anything about it. But mostly, Guildenstern is descent. Unlike other double-act straight men, he takes no joy in scoring points off his partner, if only because he feels their joint situation is too worrying for that; he is, rather always the one trying to interpret their situation. He can be exasperated by Rosencrantz but also can be gentle and concerned.

Guildenstern is disgusted by the players whereas Rosencrantz is tempted. Athis my be partly because on Guildenstern they cause "˜fright' but his compassion for Alfred is clearly evident.